Thursday, May 16, 2019

Rain in May makes plants go yeah

May is typically the beginning of our annual 5- or 6-month dry stretch. By mid-May, the rainfall odds have gone done significantly. If it does rain, it's generally nothing more than a token amount. That's why the past two days have been so unusual. Not only has it been raining for an extended period, albeit on and off, but we've had over an inch since yesterday morning. That's a new historic record for May 15. (You know it's special when the weather oracles on TV talk about a "rain event.")

I'm looking at this as an unexpected gift—one last hurrah before we need to get serious about watering. Beyond that, the garden simply looks great after all the dust has been washed off. Plants are squeaky clean, and colors pop, especially reds and greens.

Here are some random photos from this morning. I'm sure I'll look at them repeatedly over the course of the summer when it's hot outside and the colors have dulled from an ever thickening layer of dirt.

Hechtia 'Wildfire', an Andy Siekkinen hybrid between Hechtia texensis and Hechtia stenopetala. The color really is that insane!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Spring in South Africa, courtesy of UC Santa Cruz Arboretum

In my previous post I showed you a selection of seasonal standouts in the Australian Garden at the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum—plants that looked particularly good when I was there on April 13, 2019.

This post essentially does the same for the South African Garden. While most conebushes (genus Leucadendron) and sugarbushes (genus Protea) were a few months past their prime, many pincushions (genus Leucospermum) were in full flower.

It's easy to fall in love with pincushions, but unless you have the right environment, they're not easy to grow—at least in my experience (current kill count: 4). I think Davis is just a tad too hot in the summer for their liking. In contrast, leucadendrons have an easier time here.

Fortunately, I can always drive to Santa Cruz to get my Leucospermum fill. It's a little over two hours by car if the traffic gods are in a good mood—so a quick one-day outing is doable. A weekend getaway would be even better, of course, except I never manage to plan that far ahead.

But enough yakking already. Time to let the plants shine!

Leucospermum gueinzii

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Spring in Australia, courtesy of UC Santa Cruz Arboretum

The UC Santa Cruz Arboretum isn't close—just over two hours if there's no traffic—so I don't get to go very often. At least their twice-a-year plant sales are a good incentive: Not only did I make it to the fall sale last October (click here), I also managed to hit the spring sale on April 13.

The UCSCA plant sales are crazy, with hordes of plant-hungry people who know exactly what they want and aren't afraid of making a run for it, so I don't take photos while shopping. But once I'm done and my haul is safely stashed in the car, I allow myself the luxury of relaxing and taking a leisurely stroll with my camera.

Last month I began my walkabout in the Australian Garden (this post) and then checked out what was in bloom in the South African Garden (next post). I'm keeping my commentary to a minimum and let the photos speak for themselves.

If you want to read more about UCSCA and its history, head over to their website. After you're done with this post, of course!

Friends of the Arboretum info booth on the left; the sale area is behind the big shrub on the left

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The softer side of the danger garden

I was in Portland, Oregon a few weekends ago for Hortlandia, the massive spring plant sale event organized by the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon. Once again I had the privilege of staying with my friends Loree and Andrew so I had free rein of the danger garden. In reality, there wasn't that much time because we were busy with Hortlandia and miscellaneous nursery visits, but I did sneak in some exploring.

While the danger garden is primarily known for Loree's love of spiky plants—and the occasional stab or puncture wound ensuing from a close encounter—there's a lot more to experience. Loree is a master at layering contrasting textures: Whenever you see a hard edge, you can be sure that a soft element is nearby to act as a counterbalance.

In this post, I'm focusing on the softer side of the danger garden rather than zeroing in on Loree's agaves and their playmates. Of course I'll throw in the occasional agave photo, but I'll also show plants you might not have expected. How about tulips growing side by side with agaves?

Tulipa hageri 'Little Beauty' contrasting beautifully with the yellow flowers of Euphorbia rigida

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Hortlandia in Portland: passionate plantaholics and crazy crowds

This spring I finally had the opportunity to experience an event my Pacific Northwest gardening friends have been raving about forever: Hortlandia, the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon's (HPSO) annual spring plant sale.

This is how the HPSO describes Hortlandia on their web site:
In April of every year, HPSO sponsors an event that is one of the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. Vendors from far and wide – from nearly the Canadian border to the California border – come to Portland to offer the latest plant introductions as well as the time-tested (and hardiness-tested!) plants. Complementing the plant vendors are specialty garden art vendors bringing one-of-a-kind pieces made from metal, wood, glass, ceramic, fabric, and stone
You get the idea: Hortlandia isn't "just" another plant sale, it's the Coachella of plant sales! It's such a massive event that it's held at the Portland EXPO Center. You do need plenty of space when you have 50+ plant vendors and 30+ garden art vendors—not to mention 6,000+ visitors!

These stats blew my mind. There's nothing like that in California, certainly not in Northern California. Unlike the usual home and garden shows, which seem to be about anything but plants, Hortlandia is all about plants—plants you can buy and take home!

Cistus booth

Monday, April 29, 2019

St Francis Ranch: a private succulent wonderland on a grand scale

More from the 2019 Bromeliad Summit in Santa Barbara, which took place from April 4-7, 2019. 

In my previous post I showed you the spectacular venue of the Friday evening reception: organizer Jeff Chemnick's home and nursery, Aloes in Wonderland. When I told Jeff how amazing his place was, he said, "it's nothing compared to where we'll be tomorrow evening."

So here we are: St Francis Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, a 30-minute drive from Santa Barbara proper. It's the kind of country property you're likely to see in a high-end real-estate magazine like LAND (for some reason, my dentist has a subscription so I get to page through it a couple of times a year in the waiting room).

Entrance to St Francis Ranch (photo by Loree Bohl)

If you look at the three figures on top of the gate in the photo above, you'll have a good idea of which animals are raised at St Francis Ranch. The cattle are Ankoli-Watusi, whose prominent feature are almost comically long horns—to my regret I didn't take a photo. And the second kind of animal was this:

Friday, April 26, 2019

Aloes in Wonderland, the best-ever name for a nursery

In early April, I had the pleasure of attending the 2019 Bromeliad Summit in Santa Barbara, organized by Jeff Chemnick. The Friday evening opening reception was held at Jeff's place in the Santa Barbara hills. Saying "Jeff's place" is a bit like calling Santa Barbara an "alright town." Yes, it's his home and his private garden. But it's also his place of business: a nursery called Aloes in Wonderland. That has got to be one of the best nursery names ever!

But aloes aren't Jeff's only passion. There are all kinds of other succulents, including cacti, as well as palm trees, dragon trees (Dracaena draco) and Queensland bottle trees (Brachychiton rupestris). But Jeff's real specialty are cycads, specifically Mexican cycads. Jeff is a leading expert in the field and has one the largest private collections.

Where is the nursery, you might ask as you look at the photos below. The answer may surprise you: It's everywhere. Every plant you see as you walk around the garden is for sale, provided the price is right. I suspect, however, that the "right price" is directly proportional to how much Jeff is attached to it.

To set the right expectations: Aloes in Wonderland is not a conventional retail nursery. You won't find common plants at garden center prices, prepotted for immediate loading into your car.  Instead you select the specimen that speaks to you and either dig it yourself or, if it's too large, make arrangements to have it dug and delivered to your house. Aloes in Wonderland is the place to go if you want a 12-foot tree aloe, a mature cycad, or a bottle tree big enough to have a bulging trunk.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Finally visiting San Marcos Growers in Santa Barbara

The 2019 Bromeliad Summit in Santa Barbara was a two-day extravaganza the likes of which I probably won't see again for a while. A personal highlight was breakfast at San Marcos Growers, a wholesale nursery specializing in “plants appropriate to California's mediterranean climate, including many California native plants, as well as vines, trees, shrubs, ferns, perennials, succulents, ornamental grasses and grass-like plants from other areas around the world.” [1]

San Marcos Growers isn't open to the public, but their plants are carried by retail nurseries across California and in the Pacific Northwest. Over the years, I've bought many of their plants at the Ruth Bancroft Garden nursery and Peacock Horticultural Nursery. More recently, I've been able to get SMG plants via a friend so I've been able to indulge.

San Marcos Growers is named after San Marcos Road, the location of the nursery. For a long while I was confused because there's also a town named San Marcos, but it's much further south in San Diego County.

The nursery was started in 1979 by retired businessman Jim Hodges and City of Santa Barbara arborist David Gress on a 6-acre lot. Over time, adjoining properties were purchased, and today SMG has 21 acres in production, with 2 additional acres of cutting and demonstration gardens.

Massive agave flower stalk at San Macros Growers

To many of us, San Marcos Growers is synonymous with Randy Baldwin. He was hired in 1981 as production manager, became general manager in 1990, and is part owner of the company today. Arguably one of the biggest stars in the plant world in California. Randy has been a pioneer in the popularization of plants appropriate for our Mediterranean climate, including many South African and Australian plants that hadn't been seen in California gardens before. This interview with Randy Baldwin, which was posted on the State of California's CA GROWN blog on February 17, 2017, is a great introduction to what Randy does and what his interests are. It's a fast and informative read, and I highly recommend it.

Along with everything else, Randy also writes the descriptions for the plant database on the SMG web site. It's usually the first resource I go when I try to find out more about a specific plant. In addition to the specs you expect in a plant description, Randy gives valuable hardiness information and, with hybrids and cultivars, often sheds light on the plant's origin. Without the SMG database, I'd be lost, and that's no lie.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Spikes in the spring: Ruth Bancroft Garden in April 2019

The day before Loree “danger garden” Bohl and I set out for the 2019 Bromeliad Summit in Santa Barbara, we visited the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek. I hadn't been there in almost a year, and I was eager to see all the recent changes. I needn't have worried—the Visitor Center is in the final stretch of completion, the nursery is well-stocked and once again focused on plants instead of home decor, and the garden itself is looking splendid thanks to the leadership and vision of curator Brian Kemble and assistant curator Walker Young.

Loree for scale in front of the massive Agave salmiana 'Butterfingers' near the entrance

The most visible change is the Visitor and Education Center right at the entrance:


The Visitor Center is scheduled to open in June 2019. Click here for more information.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

2019 Bromeliad Summit in Santa Barbara

Last weekend was very special. Loree "danger garden" Bohl came down from Portland, OR on Thursday for four action- and fun-packed days. We hung out in Davis and visited the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, which would have been a treat in and of itself. But there was a lot more in store: We went on a road trip to Santa Barbara for the 2019 Bromeliad Summit organized by Jeff Chemnick of Aloes in Wonderland. Just imagine two spiky-plant nerds joining 60+ like-minded folks for a jam-packed weekend of presentations and visits to public and private gardens and even an air plant nursery!

The opening reception for the Bromeliad Summit was held at Aloes in Wonderland, Jeff Chemnick's 5-acre garden paradise in the Santa Barbara hills. Yes, it's a private garden, but it's an also a nursery where (almost) everything you see is for sale. A shovel is provided free of charge, but backhoe or crane use is extra. I'm not kidding about the later—you'll see what I mean in my upcoming post about Aloes in Wonderland.